Does your dog respond to cues reliably at home but fails to respond when you ask for those same cues in a new environment? Your dog isn’t being stubborn on purpose. He simply doesn’t know the behavior to the extent that you think he does!
When thinking about positive reinforcement, food treats are likely top of mind. However, there may be times when you can’t use food because it’s off-limits for medical or other reasons. Fortunately, there are a number of other ways you can reinforce your dog’s behavior when it’s not convenient or safe to use food reinforcers.
Have you ever been out on an enjoyable walk with your dog, rounded the corner, and suddenly come face-to-face with another dog? Or maybe it’s a child on a skateboard. In an instant, your relaxing walk turns to chaos with your dog barking and lunging at the trigger as you desperately try to move past. What if, instead of lunging toward the trigger, you could teach your dog to move in the opposite direction?
Here’s a common scenario: Your dog loves to chase toys. You pick up a toy and your dog dances wildly in anticipation. “Throw the toy, human! Throw it!” You toss the toy and your dog chases it… and then disappears. Game over! Many dogs love to chase toys, but they don’t always bring the toy back. How do you teach your dog to play interactively?
Many people only think of using a primary reinforcer, such as food treats, when they are training behavior with an animal. However, there are many benefits to having of a variety of reinforcers that you can rely on. Secondary, or conditioned, reinforcers are stimuli, objects, or events that become reinforcing based on their association with a primary reinforcer. Secondary reinforcers have no innate biological value, so the value must be learned through experience and association.
In Part 1 of How to Create a Safe Place for Your Dog, KPA faculty member Debbie Martin demonstrated how to establish a safe station for your dog when she is feeling anxious or fearful. Now, in Part 2, Debbie demonstrates how to desensitize a dog to sounds that cause anxiety and fear, and how to teach her to go to the safe place when she hears the sounds.
Is your dog fearful of loud noises or events, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or even the vacuum cleaner? Or is your dog fearful of certain people, like children or strangers? Creating a safe place where your dog can escape as needed can help reduce your dog’s anxiety during stressful situations. It also helps establish clear boundaries—if the dog is in the safe space, the dog needs alone time and does not want to be pet or played with.
Is your dog obsessed with chasing balls and toys? It’s tempting to try and wear out your dog by mindlessly throwing the ball over and over again. However, often this only increases your dog’s arousal and risk of injury. By being thoughtful and controlled about retrieve games, you will not only provide safe, physical exercise but mental exercise as well!
Does your dog spend most of your walks sniffing the ground? Well, there’s a good reason for that! Unlike humans who rely on sight for environmental cues, dogs rely on scent. Sniffing is how they learn about their environment. Sniffing also has a calming effect on dogs. For these reasons, sniffing is a primary reinforcer, or something that is inherently reinforcing. So, why not harness a dog’s need to sniff by putting it on cue?
As trainers, we need to be able to depend on our dogs’ ability to respond to the correct verbal cue and not to other stimuli. Verbal cue discrimination training is an important skill; it ensures that your dog responds only to the correct verbal cue and not to other words. It is particularly useful in dog sports, such as canine freestyle, where many verbal cues are given and the dog must differentiate between them.